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Delaney: a Case History

Delaney: Case History of an Abused Wife...

who empowered herself, but not enough for the legal system.

by Dr. Irene



A Jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer. -Robert Frost

Delaney was referred by a former client who asked that I help his friend: her life was "a total mess." The minute she walked through my door that cold December day in 1997, I liked her: Delaney exuded soulful warmth and goodness. She was guileless but tough; no saccharine pretense. This lady was for real. But, Delaney was also defeated. Defeated, tired, and seeking relief.

Clinically depressed for 4 or 5 years, at times with suicidal ideation, she got little relief from the antidepressant medication she had tried. She found some comfort in a bottle or in the arms of a married man. It was easy to see why any man would offer shelter: Delaney is a beautiful woman! Tall, slim, polished, and graceful, she appears to be in her early thirties. And sultry. Down to her pleasing accent, this well-spoken professional woman was in the active process of throwing her life away.

Her affect flattened as she told me about her on-going divorce and custody battle...and her inability to deal with either. She wanted to escape and wake up when it was over. She had some guilt in having given up custody of their young son, Dorian, to her husband. She explained that she had given the child up because she could not keep her head above water. At the time, she believed that the child's father would be in a better position to provide good parenting.

Peter, her husband, had centered his legal maneuvering around the child. Thinking that giving Peter custody of their son would stop the war and allow the two parents to get on with the business of co-parenting a child, Delaney was sadly mistaken. Yet, a cease-fire is what Delaney needed in order to get back on her feet emotionally.

She gave up Dorian, but Peter was not through. He filed for an enormous amount of spousal and child support. He got it.

Delaney couldn't tell me why she left her husband of 10 years. She had decided to leave 2 1/2 years before she actually left, but stayed because Peter needed her financial support to get through law school. Delaney was not one to leave anybody in the lurches. Not even a person against whom she had a standing order of protection (for repeatedly choking her around the neck). Not only did Delaney minimize her husband's physical abuse, but she totally discounted his verbal and emotional abuse. Peter did not want the war to end. He seemed to enjoy jousting with his partner, especially when she was down.

It took this lady a while to make sense of what had happened to her; how she had allowed Peter's subtle and not-so-subtle verbal and emotional assaults to slowly wear down her self confidence over their 10 years. In the habit of always giving others the benefit of the doubt, she saw that no matter how much she "gave" Peter, it was never enough. He always upped the ante, implying that what was given was not enough and that was somehow her fault. She saw she could not argue with him; he had a way of twisting words and coming out on top.

After almost a year of weekly therapy sessions, Delaney is a changed woman. She is strong. She is assertive. She is more inclined to get (appropriately) angry rather than depressed. She has her days, but she can take care of herself. Before she felt such actions were "selfish." While she still hates to fight, she has surprised her husband by standing up to him, in and out of Court. No longer helpless, Delaney is suing for full custody of their child.

However, Delaney's story does not end here. During the time when she was spent and beaten down, she had the unfortunate experience of having hired two lawyers, both of whom improperly advised her. She also had the dumb luck to end up with a Judge who, even by her husband's admission, was biased against her. Not only did Delaney lose her child, but she also lost a huge chunk of her income in support payments. Finally, on the brink of bankruptcy, she found out that her second attorney had been chewing up her retainer with lip service! For months he had stopped performing his job - though he led her to believe otherwise.

Delaney found herself in a difficult predicament: no attorney, and, nearing bankruptcy, she had no retainer to hire new counsel; the current lawyer would not return the retainer or any part of it. Her salary was way too high to entitle her to legal aid or similar representation. She could give up her two-bedroom apartment and save money by renting a studio, but doing so would jeopardize her custody battle on the grounds of inadequate housing. Determined to win back custody, especially since the child did not want to return to daddy, she took a second job 5-nights a week. Ironically, as soon as her husband's attorney found out, he informed her he would file for increased support based on increased income!

The outcome is still uncertain. What is outrageous is the legal system's lack of understanding of the effects of abuse on the psyche: the depression, the loss of self esteem, the inability to cope. The legal system in particular does not understand that the abusive person looks "good," while the partner does not. While provisions are needed to assist the abused individual in need, especially one who is helping themselves, the law makes none. In Delaney's case, the law worked against her.

It is time for a change. It is time to educate our legal system regarding spousal abuse.

See an Attorney's comments to Dr. Irene

1/30/00 Update: Delaney is doing very well. I hardly see her anymore. She's doing all sorts of good things for herself. She still does not have custody, but she is no longer a victim, and her ex has learned not to mess with her. Her kid clearly prefers mom to dad.

Also, emails back and forth with the attorney above changed my position that the legal system does not understand abuse phenomena. Their hands, unfortunately, are tied. You can follow the "Attorney's comments" hyperlink just above for the entire discussion, or just read this post by the same attorney.   Dr. Irene